As we approach the final round of Champions Cup pool fixtures, all four Irish provinces could reach the tournament’s knockout stages for the first-ever time.
Ulster have already secured a safe passage into the last-16, having won all three of their pool matches so far. So too Munster, who also boast a 100 per cent record.
Leinster and Connacht aren’t far behind, and both could confirm their place in the next round this weekend and ensure Ireland will make up for 25 per cent of the sides participating in the knockouts.
Granted, the current European Cup format means you’d have to perform pretty poorly not to progress. But in the year that’s in it, with all the off-field distractions, it would still be an achievement.
All of last weekend’s round three fixtures went ahead in the end, after previous rounds had been decimated by a mixture of Covid-19 cases within squads and tightening government restrictions.
Another clear round this weekend will leave us with a picture of who will compete in the last-16, which doesn’t get underway until the second weekend of April. Hopefully, by then, the sun will be shining and things will be looking a lot rosier on the whole.
Here is everything you need to know, as the pool stages of the 2021-22 Champions Cup reach a conclusion.
What is it?
The fourth and final round of the Champions Cup pool stages.
When it is?
The fixtures will be played from Friday January 21st through to Sunday January 22nd.
How can I watch it?
All the fixtures are being shown live on BT Sport. The early game on a Saturday however is shown free-to-air, and this week there’s some Irish interest - Leinster’s trip to Bath will be shown live on Virgin Media and Channel 4 (coverage starts 12.30pm, kick-off 1pm). You can also follow the action via the Irish Times liveblog, as well as Munster’s clash with Castres on Sunday (kick-off 3.15pm).
How does it work?
A reminder of the format:
There are 24 teams - eight each from the Pro14, English Premiership and Top 14 - which have been divided into two pools of 12.
Each side will play four pool matches each, two at home and two away. The eight highest-ranked sides in each pool will progress to a two-legged last-16, followed by quarter-finals, semis and the final.
With 16 teams out of 24 progressing into the knockout stages, it’s still wide open. . .
What are the fixtures and results so far?
All kick-off times Irish. All games live on BT Sport.
Tuesday December 7th
Bristol Bears 28 Scarlets 0, Ashton Gate, (Scarlets forfeit)
Friday December 10th
Northampton Saints 14 Racing 45, Franklin’s Gardens, 8pm
Saturday December 11th
Cardiff Blues 7 Toulouse 39, Cardiff Arms Park, 1pm (Virgin Media/Channel 4)
Bordeaux-Begles 13 Leicester Tigers 16, Stade Chaban-Delmas, 3.15pm
Leinster 45 Bath 10, Aviva Stadium, 3.15pm
Clermont 23 Ulster 29, Stade Marcel-Michelin, 5.30pm
Exeter Chiefs 42 Montpellier 6, Sandy Park, 8pm
Sunday December 12th
Ospreys 13 Sale Sharks 21, Liberty Stadium, 1pm
Connacht 36 Stade Francais 9, The Sportsground, 1pm
Wasps 14 Munster 35, Ricoh Arena, 3.15pm
La Rochelle 20 Glasgow Warriors 13, Stade Marcel Deflandre, 3.15pm
Castres 18 Harlequins 20, Stade Pierre Fabre, 5.30pm
Friday December 17th
Montpellier 28-0 Leinster, GGL Stadium, 8pm (match awarded to Montpellier)
Ulster 27 Northampton Saints 22, Kingspan Stadium, 8pm
Saturday December 18th
Harlequins 43 Cardiff 17, Twickenham Stoop, 1pm (Virgin Media/Channel 4)
Bath 0 La Rochelle 0, The Rec, 1pm (match postponed then cancelled)
Sale Sharks 0 Clermont 0, AJ Bell Stadium, 3.15pm (match postponed then cancelled)
Racing 92 28 Ospreys 0, La Defense Arena, 5.30pm (match awarded to Racing 92)
Glasgow Warriors 22 Exeter Chiefs 7, Scotstoun, 5.30pm
Munster 19 Castres 13, Thomond Park, 8pm
Sunday December 19th
Leicester Tigers 29 Connacht 23, Welford Road, 1pm
Scarlets 0 Bordeaux-Begles 0, Parc Y Scarlets, 1pm (match postponed then cancelled)
Toulouse 0 Wasps 0, Stade Ernest Wallon, 3.15pm (match postponed then cancelled)
Stade Francais 0 Bristol Bears 0, Stade Jean Bouin, 5.30pm (match postponed then cancelled)
Friday January 14th
Cardiff 33 Harlequins 36, Cardiff Arms Park, 8pm
Castres 13 Munster 16, Stade Pierre Fabre, 8pm
Saturday January 15th
Wasps 30 Toulouse 22, Ricoh Arena, 1pm (Virgin Media/Channel 4)
Ospreys 10 Racing 25, Liberty Stadium, 3.15pm
Connacht 28 Leicester 29, The Sportsground, 3.15pm
Exeter Chiefs 52 Glasgow Warriors 17, 5.30pm
La Rochelle 39 Bath 21, Stade Marcel Deflandre, 5.30pm
Bristol Bears 28 Stade Francais 17, Ashton Gate, 8pm
Sunday January 16th
Leinster 89 Montpellier 7, RDS Arena, 1pm
Northampton Saints 20 Ulster 24, Franklin’s Gardens, 3.15pm
Bordeaux 45 Scarlets 10, Stade Chaban-Delmas, 3.15pm
Clermont 25 Sale Sharks 19, Stade Marcel-Michelin, 5.30pm
Friday January 21st
Harlequins v Castres, Twickenham Stoop, 8pm
Saturday January 22nd
Bath v Leinster, The Rec, 1pm (Virgin Media/Channel 4)
Toulouse v Cardiff Blues, Stade Ernest Wallon, 1pm
Leicester v Bordeaux-Begles, Welford Road, 3.15pm
Ulster v Clermont, Kingspan Stadium, 5.30pm
Scarlets v Bristol Bears, Parc y Scarlets, 5.30pm
Glasgow Warriors v La Rochelle, Scotstoun, 8pm
Sunday January 23rd
Sale Sharks v Ospreys, AJ Bell Stadium, 1pm
Stade Francais v Connacht, Stade Jean Bouin, 1pm
Racing 92 v Northampton Saints, La Defense Arena, 3.15pm
Munster v Wasps, Thomond Park, 3.15pm
Montpellier v Exeter Chiefs, GGL Stadium, 5.30pm
April 8th-10th - Last-16 first leg
April 15th-17th - Last-16 second leg
May 6th-8th - Quarter-finals
May 13th-15th - Semi-finals
Friday May 27th - Final
What are the latest pool tables?
What are the permutations?
Munster and Ulster are two of seven teams who have already secured qualification into the last-16. Racing 92, La Rochelle, Harlequins, Leicester Tigers and Bristol Bears are the other five to progress so far.
However any one of the other 17 teams could technically still join them in the knockouts - even the pointless Ospreys, who are rooted to the bottom of Pool A. Leinster, on 10 points, are virtually assured of a place in the last-16 and can confirm it with a win at Bath.
As for Connacht, on eight points, a win away to Stade Francais would do the job but they can still reach the next round with a defeat in Paris.
What happened last weekend?
It was almost a perfect weekend for the Irish sides, with three out of four winning their third round games.
Munster set the ball rolling as they ground it out away to Castres. On Sunday Leinster walloped an under-strength Montpellier side 89-7, while later on Ulster picked up another impressive win on the road as they edged Northampton 24-20.
There was however heartbreak for Connacht, as they saw an 18-point lead disappear against Leicester, who stunned the Sportsground with a last-gasp Hosea Saumaki try to win 29-28.
Can I go?
With Thomond Park limited to just 5,000 there are no tickets available for their clash with Wasps on Sunday. You can however pick up tickets for Ulster versus Clermont, which are available HERE.
What’s the betting?
Bath 14-1 Draw 20-1 Leinster 1-200 (Leinster -25 10-11)
Ulster 2-5 Draw 20-1 Clermont 7-4 (Ulster -6.510-11)
Stade Francais 4-6 Draw 20-1 Connacht 11-10 (Stade Francais -2 10-11)
Munster 2-9 Draw 20-1 Wasps 3-1 (Munster-12 10-11)